Could the barbell be a better choice for rollouts?
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One of the most effective exercises for working the abdominal muscles is the rollout. Rather than working the abs through spinal flexion, rollouts are an anti-extension exercise and require a high degree of core strength and stability. Anti-extension is one of the main functions of your abs, and as such, anti-extension exercises are a better choice for core training, according to strength coach Mike Robertson. The question is, however, whether you're better off performing rollouts with a barbell or an ab wheel.
While both the ab wheel and a barbell can be used for rollouts, you might find that the ab wheel is more comfortable and saves space.
Find Your Form
Both exercises require almost the same technique. For the ab-wheel rollout, you kneel on the floor with your hands on the handle on either side of the wheel. From there, move your arms forward while lowering your torso toward the ground and pivoting on your knees. Hold your abs tight and prevent your lower back from arching. Once you've gone as far as you can with good form, squeeze your core and bring yourself back to the starting position. The barbell variation is exactly the same, but performed with your hands on a barbell, spaced roughly shoulder-width apart.
Consider Ease of Use
The ab wheel is designed specifically for rollouts, so it should be easy to use. A barbell on the other hand is designed for multiple purposes. This can be a downside, as it might take some time to figure out your optimal hand spacing when using the barbell. Not only that, but you need an adjustable barbell, rather than a fixed weight one, as the bar needs to be able to spin at the ends as the plates roll across the floor.
Look at Your Space
In a busy gym, finding a barbell, then having the space to set it up and execute a set of rollouts can be challenging. This isn't as much the case with a wheel though. You can easily fit a wheel into your backpack or training bag and take it with you to the gym. Then all you need is a quiet corner or small area and you're good to go, with no waiting around. You can also take a wheel with you when working out on vacation or in the park, something you can't do with a barbell.
Include Some Variety
Neither exercise is necessarily more effective, as they both involve the same movement and muscles. From a cost perspective, a wheel is cheaper, yet a barbell has many more functions. Include both in your routine if you can and alternate between them every few weeks. Additionally, strength coach Chris Merritt, co-owner of Beyond Strength Performance recommends trying other rollout variations too, such as stability-ball, slider and standing rollouts.